ECC men’s basketball team seeks first conference title in 30 years

El+Camino+College+men%27s+basketball+team+plays+a+5-on-5+scrimmage+at+the+end+of+their+practice+Thursday%2C+Oct.+17+at+the+North+Gym.+The+men%27s+basketball+team+tips+off+the+season+Friday%2C+Nov.+1+at+Citrus+College+at+6+p.m.+Jaime+Solis%2FThe+Union
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ECC men’s basketball team seeks first conference title in 30 years

El Camino College men's basketball team plays a 5-on-5 scrimmage at the end of their practice Thursday, Oct. 17 at the North Gym. The men's basketball team tips off the season Friday, Nov. 1 at Citrus College at 6 p.m. Jaime Solis/The Union

El Camino College men's basketball team plays a 5-on-5 scrimmage at the end of their practice Thursday, Oct. 17 at the North Gym. The men's basketball team tips off the season Friday, Nov. 1 at Citrus College at 6 p.m. Jaime Solis/The Union

El Camino College men's basketball team plays a 5-on-5 scrimmage at the end of their practice Thursday, Oct. 17 at the North Gym. The men's basketball team tips off the season Friday, Nov. 1 at Citrus College at 6 p.m. Jaime Solis/The Union

El Camino College men's basketball team plays a 5-on-5 scrimmage at the end of their practice Thursday, Oct. 17 at the North Gym. The men's basketball team tips off the season Friday, Nov. 1 at Citrus College at 6 p.m. Jaime Solis/The Union

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The 12-pound rubber medicine ball bounced off the backboard and began falling towards the wooden floor until sophomore point guard Oshiua Alston leapt into the air and snatched the heavy ball from the sky, landing with a thud that reverberated throughout the gymnasium.

He let out a primal scream that was echoed by his teammates as he clutched the ball tightly into his gut, protecting it from imaginary defenders before jumping into a hard layup.

Each member of the El Camino College men’s basketball team repeated the heavy-ball drill. Every time a rebound was recovered, the whole team yelled in encouragement.

The heavy-ball rebounding drill is just one part of Warriors’ head coach Robert Uphoff’s strategy leading into the 2019-2020 season that places an emphasis on improved defense and raw physicality.

“Our defense will hopefully shore up from last year, partially the size and the physicality,” Uphoff said.

The team’s first tipoff of the season will be against Citrus College on Friday, Nov. 1 at 5 p.m. in the ECC North Gymnasium.

Uphoff said he is confident this season’s more experienced lineup that includes seven second-year players alongside stronger and taller freshmen will be critical in converting close losses from last season into victories this year.

Despite losing to Citrus College last season, Alston said he feels the team chemistry and strategy will work well this time around.

“I felt like we had them [Citrus College] last year, but we just didn’t know how to close as a team,” Alston said. “But this year with our sophomores and freshmen, I think we have a very good chance at beating them.”

Freshman guard Corey Madison also emphasized team chemistry, physicality and reflected on what he needs to do to continue to improve.

“We’re still building team chemistry and learning the offense and how to play with each other,” Madison said. “I know that I need to get bigger. I need to play smarter, slow down sometimes and score the basketball.”

 

Freshmen forward Jerome Duhon said that Warriors’ wins will come as a result of their commitment to a relentless defense.

“I think we will get a winning season with our defense, we will be able to stop the offense from scoring,” Duhon said.

Last season the Warriors defense gave up too many uncontested perimeter shots both inside and outside the three-point line. This season, the team plans to tighten up the defense by contesting jump shots while sealing off penetration drives to the basket, Uphoff said.

“Our defense has really been our biggest improvement,” Uphoff said. “We want teams to have to shoot jump shots but we want those to be contested.”

An increase in speed and ball-handling from their guards should improve the Warriors transitional offense this season, sophomore guard Darius Alexander said.

“We got fast guards, way better ball handlers, dudes that can handle the ball,” Alexander said. “That’s going to be one of the keys in transition.”

Although the Warriors’ will be playing with several returning players this season, they will be without their two best shooters from last season. Justin Chambers and Justin Reyes have both signed and transferred to play at four-year schools.

Even without Chambers and Reyes, Uphoff said he is confident that their added size and experience will free up space to score baskets.

“We have a lot of guys that can score in a variety of ways,” Uphoff said.

After the heavy-ball drills, the team ran full-court five-on-five possession drills designed to emphasize stoppages on defense, set plays and improvised passing on offense.

The players ran hard. Every movement was deliberate. There was an intensity among the Warriors’ camaraderie that motivated their teamwork.

After a losing record last season and no conference championship titles since 1989, the men’s basketball team seems eager to turn things around beginning with their first game against Citrus.

Citrus College is consistently a top-10 team, one of the most aggressive three-point shooting teams in the state, Uphoff said.

“They will be a good test for us,” he added.

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